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Annual Meetings Update: Sunday, 29 September 2002
Trade Round-up: Wolfensohn calls for director to be sacked
Part of the program of seminars was a roundtable ‘From Trade Round to Development Agenda’ with speakers from US industry, the Ugandan Central Bank, the Asian Development Bank, World Bank Head of Trade, and Oxfam. Not surprisingly considering the participants there was consensus over the need for increased market access for Southern countries in Northern markets; the only split opening up between Oxfam and the rest of the panel over their insistence that continued reduction in barriers in the South would be beneficial to Southern countries.
In a hastily organized small group session on trade with civil society groups, Uri Dadush, World Bank Head of Trade, and Hans Peter Lankes, Chief of Trade Policy Divisionof the Fund, presented a paper on market access. A line was drawn in the sand with Dadush’s remarks that there were two things that had not changed in the Bank’s approach to trade: firstly, that, on average, trade leads to growth and growth to poverty reduction, and, secondly, that both developing and developed countries benefit most from unilateral liberalisation.
But Dadush’s comments were contradicted by Bank President James Wolfensohn in the Roundtable which ended the day, ‘Honoring a Global Compact for Growth & Development’. Head of Social Watch, Roberto Bissio, told the panel that the Bank and Fund’s coercive efforts forcing developing countries into unilateral trade liberalisation were hurting their positions in WTO negotiations. Wolfensohn cut in, insisting that this was no longer the position of the Bank. When Bissio insisted that this was in fact what he had just been told in a meeting with a Bank staff member a few hours earlier, Wolfensohn quipped “give me their name and I’ll fire them…send them over to work for the Fund.” Wolfensohn insisted that the “song book that the Bank is playing from” was that trade liberalization was a two-way street. The Fund also claims to be doing so, with its annual Article IV assessments of member country economies now examining issues such as ODA spending, trade and producer subsidies.
Civil society groups held a workshop at the Center of Concern to strategize over shaping the attempts by the IFIs to achieve trade-finance ‘coherence’. Participants examined agriculture, services, corporate accountability and the so-called ‘Singapore issues’ in the light of the increased efforts by the Bank and the Fund to support the work of the WTO. Key messages for future campaign work will include stopping the WTO from allowing the new issues to come up in future negotiations, countering the Bank’s use of the Private Sector Development strategy to advance services privatisation through the WTO, and re-orienting official capacity building initiatives to make them more independent and diverse. NGOs this week raised their concerns about services privatisation at a consultation on an early outline of the World Bank’s major report on services which will be issued just before the Cancun trade talks next year.
World bank and energy
Civil society organisations following energy issues held a meeting to discuss the Bank’s activities in this area. They expressed concern that the large privatisation schemes promoted by the Bank had proved costly and not achieved their aims of further connections and lower tariffs. Girish Sant, of PRAYAS Research Group in India, emphasised that over the last decade the Bank has moved from supporting individual development projects to supporting sector policy reform and entire government budget reform. Whilst recognising that the governance of state-owned power companies needs to be scrutinised he said that what the Bank calls good governance needs to be scrutinised. Participants in the meeting, held at the World Resources Institute, agreed that the World Bank often keeps people out of debates about power reforms, something which is bad for democracy. Until the public gets more involved in the debates about reform options “there will be no good governance”. By extension, they argued, the Bank’s overall approach to power will be slow to shift away from reliance on centralised fossil fuel power stations. The Bank has been reluctant to set any targets for support to renewables and rural energy. One Bank staff member recently said that the small amount of work being done on these represented no more than “politically correct activities at the fringes”.
Human rights: WB ready to break taboo?
Irungu Houghton of Action Aid USA, one of the organisers of the civil society meeting on the Bank and human rights this week asked World Bank President James Wolfensohn what his approach would be, particularly on womens’ rights. Wolfensohn replied: “I’m very proud of what we’ve done on women’s rights, but I have not used the language of human rights. For some members of the Bank’s board the language of human rights is a red flag, seen as politics. We have an internal group addressing this. They are looking at individual rights without using the language. One day I said that corruption is not a political issue, its social and economic. I believe the same thing will happen on human rights”.
On the streets
Protesters who support a ‘diversity of tactics’ were out on Friday, staging a critical mass bike ride and playing cat and mouse with police across the city. Although the greatest trouble reported was two broken windows at a Citibank branch, over 600 ‘pre-emptive’ arrests were made. Included in the unconstitutional round-up were a number of bewildered tourists and commuters, who perhaps hadn’t noticed that they had wandered into a crowd which posed such a threat to national security. Estimates for Saturday’s ‘Quarantine the Bank’ march hovered around 5000. This number was perhaps less than organizers, the Mobilization for Global Justice, had hoped for, but most were upbeat that in light of the current political climate and a massive police presence, the turnout signalled a return to mass protest in the US post 9-11. Speeches by leaders of anti-privatisation movements in the South, trade unions and student leaders energized the crowd.
Leaving the protest, I came upon a surreal scene. Some twenty marchers had sat down in the middle of the intersection at 18th and G Street, listening to music and watching some of their friends enjoy a game of Twister, where players convulse their bodies in an attempt to follow instructions to place a body part on brightly coloured circles laid out on a plastic mat. Watching the ‘lefthand on yellow’ call-outs were several hundred police, dressed in full riot gear, three deep all the way around the intersection. Khadim Hussein, of Action Aid Pakistan, pointed to one of the officer’s bullet-proof vest, forearm guards, shin guards and tear gas rifle, asking “Don’t you think this is overkill?”. The response came, “It protects me.” Presumably from a nasty sprain of a right foot on green.
Alex Wilks and Jeff Powell
For more information about events at the Annual Meetings see:
Annual Meetings calendar, Bank Information Center
IFI watchers calendar, IFI watchers network
Annual Meetings Documents
Development Committee Papers
- Development Committee communiqué
- Better Measuring, Monitoring, & Managing for Dev’t Results
- Dev’t Effectiveness & Scaling Up: Lessons & Challenges from Case Studies
- Harmonization of Operational Policies, Procedures & Practices
- Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative: Status
- Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers – Progress
- Recent Trends in the Transfer of Resources to Developing Countries
International Monetary and Financial Committee Papers
- IMFC communiqué
- IMF in a Process of Change
- Guidelines on Conditionality
- Twelfth General Review of Quotas – Further Considerations
- Status Report for the IMFC on the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO)
- HPoverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) – Progress in Implementation
- Intensified Work on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism
Civil society reports
Towards a Fair and Orderly Resolution to Debt Crises, New Rules for Global Finance, CIDSE/Caritas, Center of Concern
Briefing and strategy session on trade-finance coherence, Center of Concern
Center for Environment and Development, Friends of the Earth International
Digging to development, Oxfam America